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Monday, March 4, 2013

Putting Work at the Feet of Jesus

When I sat down to write this blog, I was confronted with the realization that I've got a problem with overworking today.  Every time I started to concentrate on what I was going to write, I found myself thinking about other work I need to do today. I mean, of course I need to be dedicated to my job, because otherwise, I won't be able to cover my bills, and that just isn't good.  Still, why this compulsion to open five tabs in the browser or tweet when it's supposed to be a scheduled time for contemplation with God? Can't I take a break for five minutes? What's the matter with me?

Part of this, when I force myself to close those browser tabs and really think about it, is pure habit.  On the other hand, part of this, I think, is born of some of Satan's lies.  If I stop working, I might be "lazy," or perhaps "abandoning my duty," or "proving a failure who doesn't know when to work and when to quit." Satan would have me feeling guilty for sleeping or taking enough time for a meal.  He would make me feel unsatisfied with any reward I might have gotten out of a job well-done.  Ultimately, he'd like to see me broken down, worn out, depressed, and ineffective for the Lord.  He couldn't just cut to that ending, so he has to start with guilt.

I am a freelancer for a living. I know there may be a lot of freelancers out there reading this and nodding their heads.  However, freelancers aren't the only ones dealing with the "guilt of work." Whether you work a regular 9-5 office job, do physical labor outdoors, or corral toddlers all day, you have probably found yourself doing work out of guilt or some kind of compulsion, even when it's time to do something else (like maybe, sleep).  I might be describing you if:
  • You frequently interrupt bedtime prayer mid-sentence to add to a grocery or to-do list.
  • You can't seem to get into a conversation because you keep checking your phone for updates.
  • Watching movies in the movie theater with friends or family make you feel fidgety, because you have to turn off your phone and abandon your computer for a whole hour and a half to two hours.
  • When you are home watching television or doing something with your family, you feel nervous, as if you "should really be doing something."
  • It is hard to sit down and lose yourself in a fictional book or hobby. If it's not nonfiction, you feel that it should be. If it isn't "good for your career" or potentially going to make money, it isn't worth the time.
  • You suddenly solve the answer to a problem you've been having at work when the pastor is still preaching.
There are more situations like these, and I could go on listing them, but I think you get the idea. 

Other people value us by the money we earn or the tasks we complete, but it seems God measures our time by our spiritual development, according to His purposes. He would like us to see work as good for a few things, not our source of meaning.  He certainly doesn't want our "work guilt" from any source to keep us from coming to Him (Matthew 11: 28-29). He wants us to see our work for what it really is (important, but not spiritually essential), so we can come and rest at His feet (Luke 10: 38-42).

It comes down to a confrontation with those guilty feelings that keep egging us on without a rest.  We need to face the fact that we can't hold up the world on our shoulders, and purposefully, actively give it to God.  That might mean literally ceasing to work for a few minutes while we focus on God, like Martha's sister Mary did, just to prove to ourselves that the world won't end if we do.  Alternatively, if stopping is not an option at that moment, it might mean confessing those guilty feelings to God and asking Him to remind us of how He values us, so that we can keep working with a healthier attitude about it.

Here's a question for my readers out there.  How do you cope with "work guilt"?  Any tips you could share? Good ones will go into a follow-up blog on this subject.